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The Weird Week in Review

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Man Shot for Using Boss' Toilet

Rajabu Hasani of Durban, South Africa, had no idea that the toilet inside the store he worked for was only for the boss' use. After using the bathroom, the unnamed manager of the store confronted Hasani, whose defense was that he had only worked there three weeks and didn't yet know all the rules. The manager then shot Hasani in the knee! An ambulance took him to the hospital, where the bullet was removed. Hasani contacted police, who are investigating, but no arrested have been made. Hasani had not returned to work at the store.

Edgar Allan Poe's Funeral

Edgar Allan Poe died 160 years ago, but did not have a proper funeral, especially for such a respected author. Sunday, this will be rectified with two services at Poe's grave site in Baltimore. Actors will portray Poe's contemporaries and eulogies will be read based on real writings about the author. Instead of digging up and reburying Poe, a mockup was constructed and will lie in state for visitation and a wake before the funeral. Advance tickets are sold out. Baltimore has many Poe events scheduled for this year, the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Bag of Cocaine 'Shot Out' of Suspect's Body

St. Lucie County, Florida police received a tip about a man transporting cocaine Thursday. They found a car fitting the description at a gas station. The driver, Warren Leonard Wiley drew the attention of a drug-sniffing dog.

"Wiley was then escorted to the men's room for a more detailed search," the affidavit states. "While being escorted, Wiley dropped his shorts in the middle of the store stating, "˜I don't have nothing.' "

Wiley's backside appeared "clenched tight" as if he was hiding something. While walking, his backside relaxed and a clear bag with about 22 grams of cocaine in it "shot out" onto the store's floor.

Officers arrested Wiley on a variety of charges.

Plumber's Arm Left Askew

50-year-old Torron Eeles of Welham Green, Hertfordshire, England fell down a fight of stairs in December and broke his upper arm. Ten months later, he still hasn't received an operation to straighten it out. Eeles claims that the surgery has been postponed four times. An authority with the National Health Service claims there have been two postponements due to concerns over Eeles health, once when his blood pressure was too high and once when it was found he failed to quit smoking under a doctor's intruction. Eeles' incapacity benefits were discontinued recently when a doctor evaluated him and said he could work.

Crocodile Thrown in Jail for Loitering

Police in Gunbalanya, Northern Teritory, Australia arrested and detained a two meter long female crocodile. The charge? Loitering!

Police said they found it loitering near a fence, trying to look innocent.

Brevet Sergeant Adam Russell said intrigued residents had gathered around to watch the arrest "“ but any dreams he had of nabbing the gnasher in style were promptly voted down.

"I wanted to jump on it Steve Irwin style," he said. "But (the rangers) wouldn't let me."

After three days in the local jail, during which the croc endured a hosing-down every few hours, the prisoner was turned over to a crocodile farm.

Vampire Wedding

150vampireweddingThe Rockin'-R-Ranch in Columbia Township, Ohio hosts a haunted house and conducts haunted hayrides during October. This year, they also hosted a vampire wedding! Jack Holsinger was carried in a coffin to the altar where he met his bride Connie Spitznagel. Both were dressed as vampires. The best man appeared as pirate Jack Sparrow and the maid of honor was decked out as the Bride of Frankenstein. The couple's vows were customized to reflect their nature as vampires. Many of the guests were also dressed as vampires or other Halloween characters. Patrons of the haunted house were welcomed to the wedding as well.

Dispute Between Neighbors Leads to Poisoning Attempt

A rift between neighbors could have turned deadly when Gary Stewart of Denton, Manchester, England shared his takeout curry with Marie Walton and Beverley Sales. The women found pest control pellets in the food and called police. Stewart was arrested and admitted he was trying to poison the women. According to other neighbors, Stewart had been harassing Walton and Sales for months, allegedly kidnapping their three-legged cat and dumping her several miles away. The cat was eventually recovered.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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